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Berto looked into Katrina’s eyes, completely conflicted yet unmistakably drawn to her. Images of Vanessa popped into his vision, reminding him he was doing something wrong. But Katrina was there, her curves so accessible, her face looking expectantly to his.
“Katrina…” Berto protested. Yet even as he tried to push her away, he felt the longing he had always had for her, since they met four years go. Her dark skin against his pale freckles. Her voluptuous body against his frail, breakable one. He remembered perfectly how it was when they had been together. But now he was dating Vanessa. He had moved on, Katrina had moved on. Or so he thought.
“Look, Bear,” Katrina started, purring out his favorite nickname. “I know you’re dating Vanessa. And I know y’all are happy. But if you’re so happy, what is this?”
Berto unwrapped his arms from around Katrina. They had been working all week on their Duet Acting piece and today had been the culmination of his temptation. Their characters were two people falling in love, and the scene had hit too close to home. As she walked past him to run the scene again, he couldn’t help but grab her hand and pull her toward him. He couldn’t help but hug her, hold her tight and run his fingers down her back, through her hair. He felt her back tense and saw the concern in her bright green eyes as he realized what he was doing. As a nervous habit, he backed away and pulled out his Razr, flipping it open and closed.
Taking off his broken glasses and pacing around the tiny room, Berto thought. What was he doing? He had Vanessa now, and everything was comfortable. They had known each other for their whole lives. He did not want to mess that up. She had watched him go through his parents’ divorce—seen him grow from a skinny, awkward, immature, short little boy to an even skinnier, more awkward, more immature, slightly taller young man. He had seen her stay almost the exact same person through all of lower and middle school, finally blossoming when she entered high school. Berto was an extremely awkward person while Vanessa was popular and very natural. She was tall and he was short. To anyone, they were a mismatched pair. However, they had been Duet partners years before and had always been comfortable around each other, if only because of the longevity of their relationship. But there always seemed to be an added seriousness to their relationship. When they had been Duet partners, Berto had insisted on treating her like he treated all women: with little to no respect and as if they worked for him. All of Berto’s friends knew it was a joke, and to just shake him off with a goodhearted laugh. But Vanessa couldn’t see the humor.
“Wanna hear a joke?” Berto asked her, getting creepily close and smiling mischievously.
Vanessa rolled her eyes, having heard this one before. “Sure, Berto.”
“Women’s rights!” Berto blurted out, laughing hysterically at his own joke.
Vanessa would just stare at him, shaking her head along with a few other girls in the class. Katrina laughed at the joke. She understood that he wasn’t serious. But Vanessa never did, instead treating him like a child, almost chastising him for his immaturity when she was, in fact, a year younger. As a person devoted to making his life one big stand-up sketch, Berto resented Vanessa. He wanted a relationship, but not with the responsibility, which left his thoughts jumbled beyond reason.
Berto looked toward Katrina again. She had been steadily watching him flip his phone open and closed for the past few minutes. She nodded her head, silently saying that it was okay for him to go. She understood. He flipped his phone back out one more time, reached out toward her with the edge, and acted as if he were slicing her with it—his signature farewell to friends. As he ran out of the overheated practice room, Katrina’s tinkling laughter followed him, constantly reminding him that she understood. She understood.
“Kat. Vanessa. Kat. Vanessa,” Berto murmured, his long pale hands shaking as he walked through the hallways of the school he knew so well. He couldn’t get Katrina’s face out of his mind. Berto had been her first new friend upon their entrance to high school. They had dated, broken up, become best friends and then awkwardly liked each other for two years. Both were aware of this fact, but spent the majority of their energy publicizing it as a joke. The whole grade knew about their long history, but Berto and Katrina milked it for all it was worth, placing bets on the inevitably of getting back together, or awkwardly making advances toward each other in public. Besides their incredible public chemistry, Berto regarded Katrina as one of his most valuable friends. When he decided to skip his father’s second wedding, Katrina was with him, holding his hand through the difficult choice and aftermath. When Katrina lost every friend she had made in high school because of one, stupid, overdramatic fight, Berto had been one of the few to remain by her side. They often had dinner together after long weekends at speech tournaments, talking about their own personal past, their separate presents, and their dread of the future. While Vanessa presented a comfort that he could only find in a lengthy relationship, Katrina brought him the comfort he longed for in every relationship. He had no choice but to acknowledge and remember their chemistry-fueled, wonderful past.
Berto reached the main hallway of his school, wracked with guilt and even paler than usual. Every face looked like Vanessa’s, accusing him of his mental adultery. When he saw the real Vanessa, he grabbed and held her, trying to feel for the automatic chemistry he felt for Katrina. He leaned back and looked into her eyes, dark with the stress of a long day. He searched her face for some clue, but she just looked at him inquisitively. Vanessa was beautiful, with cute little freckles splattered across her face, and a huge smile usually awaiting him. Berto felt a spark of something as he held her close, but it did not even compare to the fireworks that occurred when he even came near Katrina. Disappointed, he pulled away and pulled his phone out of his pocket.
“How was practice?” Vanessa asked.
Berto flipped his phone open and closed.
“I really wish you weren’t partners,” Vanessa pleaded, trying to get Berto to look her in the eyes.
Rolling his eyes, Berto reached toward her with the Razr, trying to slice her with the edge.
“Berto! Would you stop?” Vanessa demanded. He reverted back to flipping the phone open and closed.
“Can we get to the point? She still likes you. I know it. So does everyone. We can see it.”
“It’s okay,” Berto reassured her. “Been there, done that, won’t happen again.” He ran his fingers down her back, still searching for something. However, he knew he would not find it. But did that mean he should quit? Dump Vanessa and try to win Katrina back? He was happy with Vanessa. She was gorgeous, fun to talk to, and great at bringing Berto back down to Earth.
At that moment, Brian, Berto’s best friend, walked by, winking at Vanessa and Berto’s linked hands. Seeing his opportunity to get away, Berto quickly released Vanessa’s hand and ran to catch up with Brian, pulling out his Razr for another slice. Brian laughed and deflected him. Berto took a deep breath and emitted a loud screeching noise, calling attention to himself from all corners of the hallway. He laughed his signature nerdy guffaw in response to the numerous stares and strutted off with Brian, not wanting to even think about making a decision.